Photo: Pictured above, Nancy Gardner (left) opens her arms to embrace a child while her sister Missy Stephens (right) shares a hug with another child at Music n’ Me.
By Katie Bohannon, Staff Writer
When Nancy Gardner and Missy Stephens were children, they discovered a love for music. Inspired by their experiences as elementary educators and respect for music’s transformative influence, the sisters united their talents to create a joyful noise.
As the Director of Elementary Education and preschools in Tuscaloosa, Stephens lived two hours away from her sister. That separation ended about five years ago, bridging the gap between two kindred spirits who share more than family. Stephens’ and Gardner’s bond is strengthened through their shared appreciation of music, but their passion for introducing children to a world full of melodies, harmony and joy plants seeds instrumental to a child’s growth for years to come.
Both pianists and experienced choir singers, Stephens’ and Gardner’s love for music is a significant treasure they wanted to share. While teaching private piano lessons allowed Stephens to encourage others to pursue a talent stored in her heart, both Stephens and Gardner longed to expand their instruction in a fun, cheerful environment where they could fellowship together.
At first, the sisters tried a musical development program called Sing n’ Sprout. While they loved the principles and the name, Stephens and Gardner felt that the music was lacking. Rather than sift through programs with predetermined curriculums and songs, the sisters decided to write their own. Three years ago, they created Music n’ Me, a faith-based musical development series that encourages movement, song and spiritual growth in each child who participates.
“Music is God’s gift to us to worship,” said Stephens. “[We are] trying to instill that He has given us the ability to sing and dance and play, and that’s our gift back to Him.”
The sisters felt God called them to establish Bible truths in their students’ hearts through Music n’ Me, which features a Bible verse to accompany the music lessons and movement activities where children perform motions like clapping their hands, stomping their feet or spinning around. During the six-week long series, Music n’ Me combines faith with a child’s natural inclination to play, dance and sing, promoting Biblical teachings while establishing a strong musical foundation upon which students can build.
Music n’ Me’s title represents music in a person’s soul or “music in me,” while also expressing “music and me” which refers to a caring adult that attends classes with the children. Each Music n’ Me series features a unique theme, engaging children in their education through enjoyable, relatable topics. From Noah’s Ark to oceanography, from occupations to God’s creation of Earth, Music n’ Me transforms a child’s understanding of the natural world into a deeper appreciation of music’s influence on their lives. Music n’ Me nurtures a love for music in children at a young age, fostering future generations of musicians, singers, performers or teachers who respect music and value its worth as entertainment, self-expression or worship.
“Seeing a child that doesn’t know something, and all of a sudden it clicks with them [is what I enjoy the most about Music n’ Me],” said Gardner. “[For children] to know that the word ‘adagio’ means slow, when it registers with them, that’s exciting…and to know that they love music.”
The sisters implement their educational backgrounds into Music n’ Me to create a secure atmosphere where children and parents feel free to learn. When Music n’ Me began, several of the families represented in class were strangers. Today, Stephens and Gardner are teaching four-year-olds they taught at 18 months old, expanding their musical vocabularies and introducing them to prerequisites for piano. The same class who began as parents interested in teaching their children about music transformed into mothers bonding with each other while their children play on the playground. Children yell each other’s names happily, waving and hugging each other at the beginning of each class. While Music n’ Me as a class runs 45 minutes, its lessons and impact span years through friendships that blossom and memories that last a lifetime.
“We tried to kind of invest in the parents also,” said Stephens. “The parents know if they need us they can call us. It’s neat for us to look on Facebook and go, ‘Oh, look, here’s the kids from Music n’ Me and they’re going to a birthday party [for each other] or having a play date.’ [Music n’ Me] has become a little family.”
Due to several parents who work in the Gadsden City School System, Stephens and Gardner try to follow the GCSS schedule for classes. Music n’ Me is typically offered four times a year, for two six-week sessions in the fall and spring. Music n’ Me provides lessons for two different age groups of children, from 18 months to four years of age. Music n’ Me meets at Rainbow Presbyterian Church located at 3220 Rainbow Drive in Rainbow City.
For more information on joining Music n’ Me, search “Music n’ Me” on Facebook or message the closed group about future courses.